Expression pedal, delay, and reverb combine in an impressively practical and potent effect.
Concrete Design, Copper Finish
Though the Ambient Delay is obviously and outwardly related to the Ernie Ball volume and expression pedals, the copper color and smaller footprint represent design departures. It’s more compact than the VP Jr, but this does not detract from its usability. Unlike some compact treadle-equipped pedals, Ernie Ball’s design retains a practical, more full-sized width. In fact, it’s about as wide as the VP Jr but it’s about two inches shorter. The height is ever so slightly taller than a volume pedal—presumably to accommodate the delay and reverb circuitry.
The treadle action is smooth, and even my fat foot falls naturally and feels steady on the treadle. Toe-up action reduces the effect mix. Toe-down action increases effect intensity. There are three knobs on the front of the unit—reverb (which controls the reverb intensity), and feedback and time controls for the delay. The time knob can be set between 50 ms and a full second of delay time, which can be further adjusted by using a tap tempo footswitch (not included).
Settings for maximum reverb mix can be adjusted using an internal trimpot. It ships with maximum mix at about 75 percent, but I jacked this up to 100 percent, which still seems to let a touch of dry signal trickle through (no bad thing). I preferred having the extra range for exploring more extreme reverb washes, and I didn’t seem to sacrifice much in the way of sensitivity or range by making the maximum setting extra wet.
As anyone who has handled an Ernie Ball volume pedal would expect, construction is sturdy and the pedal feels substantial. There is no battery option. But Ernie Ball has done touring musicians a solid by providing a wall-adaptor with interchangeable (and included) plugs for both E.U. and U.S. territories. Nice! Also noteworthy is the new synthetic cord that connects the treadle and expression pot. It seems like a major upgrade in roadworthiness, and I’m curious to see how durable the new solution is, as I’ve gone through many of the cotton cords on my volume pedals. And while replacing these cords on a volume pedal is generally a pain, the removable back plate on the Ambient Delay should make replacement easier if the cord fails.
Casting Shadows and Echoes
Even at maximum mix settings, the delay is crisp but never too digital or sterile. The reverb also has a very natural bloom that makes swells extra organic sounding and sits nicely with the delay without creating a messy slurry of echo. Delay feedback never veers into the wild oscillation of an analog unit—even when maxed out, which seems like underutilization of the expression pedal’s functionality. But the gently tapered swells of reverb and delay that are the pedal’s strength are a sublime effect, and open up subtler possibilities. Mastering these subtleties takes practice. But you may also quickly find you apply the pedal in unexpected ways. Using it for a quick dash of color at the end of a guitar solo or for a big finish at the end of a song, for instance, adds a layer of studio-like production to live performance.
For more ethereal, ambient work, the Ambient Delay also plays well with other delays. I enjoyed using the reverb from my Twin Reverb as baseline coloration, and fading in stronger reverb and delay textures with the Ambient Delay.
The Ambient Delay is a very versatile effect. It sounds vivid and rich with small and large amplifiers and with every pickup configuration I tried. It also sounds spectacular with synths and bass. Most decent digital delay/reverb combo effects have crept toward the $200 mark, and the Ambient Delay, at 199 bucks, is no exception. But with treadle functionality that will suit casual delay and reverb users and heavy-duty texturalists alike, the Ernie Ball stands apart on both practical and expressive fronts.
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